Pilates vs Yoga – Which Is Right For You?

If you are looking for a new fitness class, you have probably scrolled through descriptions for many variations of yoga and Pilates. At first glance, the two seem similar. The photos all feature leggings-clad ladies twisting, bending, and contorting into seemingly impossible poses.

While there are a few similarities between yoga and Pilates, the two fitness trends are quite different. So, what is the difference, and which one is the best addition to your fitness routine?

The Similarities Between Yoga and Pilates

There are good reasons yoga and Pilates are often confused. There is some overlap in the approach the disciples take to fitness. Unlike sweaty gym workouts like CrossFit or weight lifting, both yoga and Pilates place emphasis on the connection between the mind and body.

In both types of classes, instructors guide participants to concentrate on their breath while inhaling and exhaling deeply through exercises. And, through the path to get there varies widely, the end result for many people is increased flexibility and long, lean muscles.

The History of Yoga and Pilates

The differences between yoga and Pilates go all the way back to the roots of the disciplines. While you aren’t likely to spend much class time pondering who did the first downward dog or scissor kick, it is helpful to understand the origins of each style of exercise.

According to Yoga Journal, people have practiced yoga for over 2,000 years. The ancient Indian sage, Patanjali, combined the oral traditions of yoga into a philosophical guidebook entitled Yoga Sutra. Originally, yoga was a mental and spiritual practice intended to help people deal with the challenges of life. The physical form of yoga evolved later as a method of meditation.

Pilates is a much more modern approach to fitness. According to the Pilates Foundation, the discipline is the brainchild of Joseph and Clara Pilates. The exercises, and the apparatuses which are integral to some forms of Pilates, were developed in the 1920s as rehabilitation tools for athletes.

Over time, the techniques and machines have changed slightly, but the focus remains the same. While yoga, there is a component of the mind-body connection, but the primary aspects are Pilates is strengthening the core, elongating the muscles and spine, and increasing stability.

 Yoga vs. Pilates – How are They Done

While a history lesson might be interesting, what you really care about is what to expect when doing yoga or Pilates. For either option, the best way to get started is to enroll in a class. Many gyms offer both practices if you want to sample, but the most intense and thorough classes are offered at specific yoga and Pilates studios. If the idea of exploring a new form of exercise in a group of strangers doesn’t sound appealing, both yoga and Pilates can be done at home, with the help of videos.

Yoga Methods

Don’t expect any upbeat hip-hop tunes to fuel your yoga class. Since yoga is largely focused on meditation and a spiritual connection, classes are generally calm and quiet. Your instructor will guide you through a series of postures. Each posture flows smoothly into the next. Once you are in a position, expect to hold for several seconds as you practice mindfulness. As you concentrate on your breath you will sink deeper into the posture.

At a beginner level, the postures involve gentle stretches. As you grow in the practice, you will work up to more complicated poses that require flexibility and balance. And at the end of the class, there is usually a time built in for relaxation and reflection. But, don’t let the serene environment and inward focus fool you. Depending on the type of class, yoga can be a hot, sweaty, full-body workout.

You won’t need to sacrifice your bank account to get started in yoga. You will just need a mat and a towel. However, blocks and straps can be helpful in modifying poses to your fitness level.

Pilates Methods

Like yoga, breathing and the mind-body connection does feature in Pilates. However, the spiritual and mindfulness aspects are replaced by a focus on core work. Small but intense movements require the body to activate stabilizing muscles. Rather than holding poses, Pilates challenges the muscles with short bursts of repeated movements. These quick, repeated contractions build lean muscles, a strong, stable core, and better alignment.

Many Pilates moves, just as hip dips, back extensions, and leg circles can be done anywhere, at any time, with just a mat. However, for a more advanced workout, you will need access to various Pilates machines, such as a trapeze table, Pilates reformer, or Pilates tower. Generally, these aren’t standard home workout equipment, so you might need to head to a studio to use them. But, simpler equipment, such as a Pilates ring or exercise ball can also amp up your workout.

Benefits of Yoga and Pilates

Both yoga and Pilates can be effective fitness regimes, but they each offer distinct benefits.

Possible Yoga benefits, according to Yoga Journal:

  • True relaxation
  • Increased mindfulness
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Improved flexibility
  • Increased muscle strength
  • Better bone health
  • Better balance
  • Increased self esteem

Possible Pilates Benefits, according to Kennedy Fitness

  • Higher fitness level, across the entire body
  • Increased flexibility
  • Body awareness
  • Core strength
  • Lean muscles
  • Increased energy
  • Improved posture

Yoga vs. Pilates – Which One is For You

Though either yoga or Pilates can be a positive addition to your fitness journey, you might find that one suits your needs and lifestyle better. There are a few things to consider before enrolling in a class.

What are your goals? – If you want to tone your body and build core strength, perhaps you should try Pilates. Or, if you want to achieve a combination of relaxation and flexibility, yoga might be a better option.

What type of class do you prefer? – For a soothing class experience, in which you walk out feeling restored both mentally and physically, you might prefer yoga. If you are looking for a traditional workout with an added focus on body awareness, you might enjoy Pilates.

Isabel is an avid yoga practitioner, who loves travelling, living life to the fullest, and cats. She loves living healthy and inspiring others to be the best they can be. When she's not performing her asanas or writing, you can find her at exquisite wine tastings around the world.
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